Lockerbie: should justice be seen to be done?
Simon Smith examines the reasoning behind the two important decisions of the Scottish Court to refuse permission to the BBC and other broadcasting companies to broadcast the Lockerbie trial to the general public
Two Libyan men stand accused of the appalling and cowardly murders of 270 passengers, crew and members of the public on the ground, following the destruction by a terrorist bomb of the transatlantic Pan Am flight over the small Border town of Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988. A Special Court of high security at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands has been empowered to hear the trial, which will be conducted under Scottish law, and presided over by three Scottish judges, without a jury. Four secure remote sites have been approved by the court, at the request and expense of the US Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), at which grieving families could attend (provided they maintain appropriate decorum) and witness live televised footage of the trial, encrypted and transmitted by a fibre-optic cable down a telephone line, rather than by satellite, to prevent access to and re-broadcast by others. At the end of each day, all videotapes would be erased. (A similar model adopted by OVC worked well at the trial arising from the Oklahoma explosion). The Crown was not involved in the installation of the cameras in the courtroom, and they were not the equipment of the BBC.Since 1992, provided there was no risk to the administration of justice, television cameras could be present at a Scottish (but not English) trial, although not at criminal cases at first instance, due to the risk of prejudice to the jury or effect upon witnesses, but only with permission of the judge and consent of all parties. Despite requests, the accused refused to consent to a televised trial. In addition to news bulletins, the BBC also wanted to broadcast the entire trial on the internet. The High Court of Justiciary retains the nobile officium, a supreme power and overriding authority in equity, which may be exercised in extraordinary circumstances, particularly where there is no other avenue for review open to the petitioner. The BBC issued two petitions, the first resulting in the opinion of Lord MacFadyen of 7 March, 2000, the second resulting in the opinion of Lord Kirkwood, in the chair of the Appeal Court, on 20 April, 2000. Together, they reveal why the BBC was denied permission to broadcast.
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